Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
It had become the new identity of the town. The tsunami that happened on the 26th December 2004 had re-defined the city of Banda Aceh and its surroundings. At a glance this city has risen from the dead. But, underneath the surface, there’s a big scar. No matter where you look and no matter whom you talk to, everything nudges the tragedy. It’s an understandable permanent scar much like a tattoo, one that will be visible and talked about. My journey this time was brief, but I still wanted to see what these Acehnese was made of. It resulted in laidback people that can accept a fate given to them and move-on.
By the way, some of this post might repeat the entry made by our friend Stania. So drop by her post here to see some information that I’ll leave out.
I never really planned to visit Aceh anytime soon, but I have always prepared myself for the mission. It is a must-see place. Out of nowhere, some of my friends planned to dive in the well-known site of Weh Island. Since the schedule worked for me, and I hadn’t been diving for sometime, I thought why not? I’m pretty easy 😛
Banda Aceh is the gateway of Weh island. We had a few hours to kill just before and after crossing to Weh, so we roamed the city and its tsunami remains. And on a personal note, I like to travel to places that have gone through some trauma and see how they have coped. I don’t think I’m psychotic for liking destruction because I really do like the aftermath creations. Wait… Am I?
Cover-up During Sightseeing
Banda Aceh has strict law of shariah. There can’t be enough emphasis on it for visitors. When traveling to Aceh, prepare clothes that cover up your body. And as all travels, there’s nothing wrong with a little dress up 🙂 Getting in to costume is so much fun!
For girls, prepare a headscarf that can cover most of your hair and neck. Wear clothes that cover all the way to your wrists and over your knees (I think guys need to wear pants longer than their knees). And in certain areas, such as the inside of Baiturrahman mosque, girls are forbidden to wear pants no matter if the pants are 10 feet long. Girls must wear skirt-like bottoms to cover the shape of legs when entering. Phew! I’m never good with rules. Got the pants wrong during my visit.
But don’t worry, the mosque also provides unfriendly warnings and cover up garments for those in the wrong costumes.
Throughout the impacted area, there are fields of green grass with a few monuments stuck to it. It’s no park I tell you; so don’t go planning a picnic there. It’s a graveyard for the tsunami victims. There were so many bodies, the government had to build a mass graves quickly before there was too much decay. Above them, stood monuments as a reminder.
Some were pretty well designed too, like the Siron site. The grand entrance was grand. On the monument, a prayer is written. ‘Kun fayakun’, which translates to ‘whatever happens, happens!’ as a saying from God and those must accept fate.
As we talked to many of the locals, both on Sabang Island and at Banda Aceh, I heard some pretty amazing stories. Many can’t explain how the tsunami ‘chose its victims. Some were severely impacted, some were not. Hence many Acehnese, including Indonesian in general, believed the hand of God intervened this tragedy.
Our driver said told us he knew a man that owned a restaurant at the Lhok Nga beach. On the day, a visitor in white garment told this owner to evacuate the area along with all his visitors, which was a full house at the time. This was 20 minutes prior to the earthquake. Being a man of business he ignored this inconceivable warning and continue to collect his earnings. But once the earth cracked in the distance, he remembered the visitors warning fled the area in panic with a random person, leaving the packed restaurant oblivious to what was going to happen next. They all drowned, and he bares his guilt till this day.
A Chinese family that lived right beside the Baiturrahman mosque has said to see 4 large men in white garments lifting the mosque during the tsunami. They were on the third floor when witnessing this miracle. The black deep seawater passed through the mosque without doing any significant damage. Since then, the Chinese family has converted to Islam. And the mosque stands as it did before with minor damage compared to the neighboring structures.
Should you believe in these stories? I can’t say for sure. But do I believe them? To some extent, I do. I also believe in a few conspiracy theories and that we’re not the only ones in the universe. That pretty much explains myself 😀
Baiturrahman is beautiful. Inside, the mosque is filled with pillars decorated with gold bans. There’s nothing too detailed with the decoration but I guess that made it humble aside to its grandness. Outside, the black dome stands out compared to the usual colors of domes. It was restored after the tsunami, although there wasn’t much damage to it.
During my visit, the mosque just completed the ‘call to prayer’. With intention to do prayer and to see the inside of the mosque, my friends and I entered the complex. But we are Asian tourists, and taking pictures was inevitable. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Ding dong, wrong! A security officer yelled at us using a megaphone, telling us to stop taking pictures and start praying. Like guilty kids, we gathered our act with our heads hang low and went to prayer.
We totally forgot about the shariah cops. And as the locals told us, they too feared these officers. Not because that they will do harm, it’s more of the shame and the lecture that the officers will give once locals get caught doing something wrong. Khihihi… Aceh is no liberal city!
When Stania visited Aceh, this Museum was half finished. When I visited, it was three quarters finished. Many of the displays were still incomplete, but that only advantaged us free admittance for the time being. The Aceh Tsunami Museum is an impressive building / museum. It’s one of the most modern and well-designed museums that I’ve seen in Indonesia and I pray to God that we can preserve it.
Inside, there are displays of pictures, amateur videos during the event, remains of the tsunami, and dioramas depicting some of the events in 3D. My favorite was the diorama of people harvesting fish after the water level dropped drastically, not knowing it was a sign of a tsunami as told here.
There’s nothing special about this beach. It was a bit dirty if I may say so myself, and there was no cleaning activity in sight. Not to mention, we weren’t allowed to swim in the waters. I was a bit confused as to what the beach is actually selling.
As the locals told us, seafood and fresh coconuts are the main selling points. They had densely built huts where you could sit in while enjoying the sea breeze. I had a coconut drink myself, which is nice. We didn’t stay for long since… we couldn’t. And we didn’t have to.
Aceh is also well-known for its culinary delights. The food made in Aceh is very different, being richer in spices and thicker in curry-like dishes than most of Indonesian food. Some favorite dishes include Mie Aceh (noodles both fried and boiled), roti cane (or cane bread), curry, etc. From the taste, I think they’re much influenced by Indian cuisine. Not to forget, the coffee is also famous amongst coffee drinkers.
The thing is, they say Aceh, West Sumatera, and also North Sumatera dishes are mixed with ganja. It makes the food taste really good, and giving an addictive effect on the consumer. People would want more and come back for more. That includes the coffee. Some affirm this, while others say it’s a hoax. I still believe in aliens 😀
‘Rujak’ is like a sweet fruit salad. It’s made of fruits cut up and poured with a sauce made of peanuts, palm sugar, salt, chilly, and stuff and stuff. It’s a very famous dish all around Indonesia but differ in every area, such in Maluku. Ipink had mentioned that the ‘rujak’in Aceh is different. Now how do I resist information like that?
We decided to rely on local knowledge and let our ‘becak’ driver take us to a good ‘rujak’ seller, on the way to Lampu’uk beach. He stopped by a vendor on the main road of the port (we were on our way back from Weh).
The ‘rujak’ here is basically similar to ‘rujak’in general. Fruits and a few veggies are its main ingredients, while peanuts and palm sugar is the base of the thin sauce. But I tasted something different, and I probably missed something during the making although I was standing at the kitchen table. Could it be the young bananas cut up in the dish? There was also a different herbal taste to the sauce. And so worth the try!
Ono, one of my travel mates, had this obsession to eat ‘Ayam Tangkap’. He was being such a brat about it and nagged all of us to go. With his wife siding him, there was no stopping him. Since no one tried it before and lived to tell, we decided that we’d give it a shot. We’re all easy!
‘Ayam Tangkap’ translates to caught chicken. So there I was, confused as to why Ono wanted to eat a free ranged chicken? Turns out it was the name of the dish, ‘Ayam Tangkap’. We had it at Cut Dek restaurant just outside of town. With it, we ordered a few more Aceh specialties that were on the menu. An Aceh feast, we had!
‘Ayam Tangkap’ is fried free-range chicken with curry leaves and a few more greens. Yap, you eat the leaves to. It could be the hunger kicking in, but by golly was it delicious. Nom nom nom! The curry leaves gave this crispy leafy taste and it worked with the chicken. Two of my friends and I participated to finish up 2 portions alone. It was the leaves (and I’m sure it’s not ganja) that kept me eating. I enjoyed the different taste of the dish.
The ‘Ayam Tangkap’ was a bit pricey, and I could taste why 😛 It was little more than IDR 50,000 per portion.
Another favorite thing on the table was the chilly garlic paste on the table. I’ve grown to like strong garlic taste in my dishes and this definitely supported that. And assure you this, I’m no blood-sucking vampire. Rawr!
After ‘Lebaran’, Garuda Indonesia usually opens up promotions for cheaper tickets to most of the destinations in Indonesia. The group had prepared 2-3 people in front of the computer after Lebaran just to book these tickets.
Bingo! We landed return tickets from Jakarta to Aceh for IDR 1,800,000 /pax, which I think is a bargain considering the distance and it’s a GARUDA! THE prime airline of the country. Most of the group admitted that they hardly travel Garuda for the sake of leisure because of the price, but there’s always a first for everything.
Other airlines also provide flights to Aceh on a daily basis. So check out our link page to check the prices of other airlines.
I can’t really agree of the term, but I will follow the flow on this. You can sight see or roam around the city in a ‘becak’. While ‘becak’ in Indonesia is most commonly known to be pedaled, the becak in Aceh is attached to a motorcycle, much like a ‘bentor’ in Sulawesi and some other parts of Sumatera.
The best part of these becak is that we get to sit side by side with the driver, making it easier to talk to. The ‘becak’ drivers are great tsunami storytellers I tell you. If you have some Indonesian language under your belt, you might get these stories about the tragedy.
Your haggling skill is numero uno here, so haggle away based on the distance of your travel. I took a becak with Ipink from the ferry port to the Lampu’uk beach which costs IDR 25,000 / ‘becak’.
Considering the amount of people we had in the group, we had to rent 2 cars for the day. Cars were rented from Rahmatullah car rental for IDR 450,000 / day, exclude driver and fuel.
Rahmatullah Car Rental can be contacted at +62 852 604 614 27.
What is an Indonesian trip without goodies to take home? We spent about 30 minutes just whipping out one store of its goods, which included local food, coffee, and handicrafts.
The Aceh handicrafts are very distinct. The sewing of patterns here are unlike any other in the country. Acehnese sew in their threads to create the intended pattern. The most obvious is applied on handbags and purses. I have always liked them and I found one cute clutch for Mum (a.k.a me, should I choose to borrow it one day). The clutch cost about IDR 60,000 (result of haggling).
Agus, another mate on the journey, had been eyeing on the mini ‘rencong’ or traditional machetes sold in the store. He bought quite a few. I think he’s building his own mini army.